Hear candid conversations between people conquering cancer – patients, their family and friends, and doctors and researchers working to help us all.
In this episode, the veteran journalist explains why she sees her second cancer diagnosis as a gift and shares how and why she stays mentally and physically “prehabilitated” for what may come next.
The Unexpected Gift
“You don’t have to get ready when you stay ready,” says Loriana.
It’s the mantra she had lived as a TV news anchor and health reporter, who often shared information with viewers on how to reduce cancer risks. And it was the reason she was able to stay calm when she faced cancer for the second time.
“I was fit, I was ready,” she recalls.
Loriana had been told the treatments from her leukemia could result in a secondary cancer diagnosis, so when she found herself facing breast cancer in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, she was calm and optimistic.
“It was the unexpected gift I got from being able to survive leukemia,” Loriana said.
Christmas in October
Loriana’s 2014 leukemia diagnosis, however, came as a shock.
She shares the unlikely story of how a fertility specialist first suspected her cancer and how friends on social media connected her to an oncologist, Dr. Mark Levis, a two-time Conquer Cancer grant recipient who practices in Maryland.
“He said, ‘Say good-bye to your son. Get on a plane now. You don’t have time to waste,’” remembers Loriana, who was told she had a 25 percent chance of surviving.
Loriana left her husband and son, then 2, in Texas. She flew alone to Maryland and entered the hospital in January to a battle cry from Dr. Levis.
“He said, ‘Put your armor on. You may not get out until Christmas’.”
Dr. Levis was right. Ten months of chemotherapy and radiation followed. Loriana's husband joined her, but she hadn't seen her son since kissing him good-bye in the airport. Treatments were not working, so a bone marrow transplant was scheduled. In October, her son was allowed to visit.
“We put up a Christmas tree, took pictures in case I didn't make it. Every year now in October, we put up that tree and we decorate,” said Loriana.
But Christmas came early. The transplant worked. Loriana's armor had remained strong.
“I want all 25.”
Loriana is still planning reconstructive surgeries following breast cancer treatment, but the reporter never stopped sharing information. Inspired by Dr. Levis’s call to action, she created a foundation called ArmorUp for Life, which helps patients advocate for their health. She wrote a book called Becoming the Story, and when she shares her story with audiences around the country, Loriana does not shy away from the darkest moments.
“I tell people - and I'm very transparent about it - that I went from living the life to fighting for my life to coming out of it wanting to take my own life because I was lost, and I didn't know how to get back up,” she says. Loriana also discusses the painful side-effects and extreme anxiety which still impact her. “You go through so much loss. You're in a mind and body you no longer recognize. It doesn't work the same. It doesn't feel the same. You don't just lose your hair, but you lose your identity in so many ways.”
What has remained, and what Loriana wants others to adopt, is her attitude toward staying prepared to conquer any disease one may face.
“People say they need a buddy to get to the gym. I don't need a buddy. I will work out every day because I want to live. I want to watch my child grow up,” says Loriana. “I am motivated by breathing and walking and life and not hearing the word cancer. And if I did, I'm motivated by the fact that I am as prepared as I could be, that if they ever say again, ‘you have 25 percent chance of survival’, I want all 25."
The purpose of this podcast is to educate and to inform. The podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. It is no substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of individual conditions. Guests who speak in a podcast express their own opinions, experience, and conclusions. Neither Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundations, nor any of its affiliates endorses, supports, or opposes any treatment option or other matter discussed in a podcast. The mention of any product, service, organization, activity, or therapy on a podcast should not be construed as an endorsement.
Emmy award-winning journalist Loriana Hernandez-Aldama takes you behind the scenes of her incredible and emotional story surviving leukemia and then breast cancer. Loriana believes being “prehabilitated” helped her take on treatment, and she challenges you to be ready in case you are faced with an unexpected diagnosis or recurrence.